Hagia Sophia – Holy Wisdom??? (Art & Travel to Istanbul)

Cher’s Famous Art

10 July 2020

“Hagia Sophia” – Holy Wisdom

Architecture, Constantinople/Istanbul, Turkey

Travel Tip: Instanbul, Turkey

BIG NEWS!  On Friday, July 10th, 2020, a Turkish court annulled a 1934 government decree turning the church into a museum, ruling it unlawful and paving the way for the building’s conversion back into a mosque despite international warnings against such a move. 

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Since 1934, it has been a museum and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1985) cherished by Christians and Muslims alike. For over 80 years, it has served as a monument of relative harmony and a symbol of the secularism that was a part of the foundations of the modern Turkish state.

A Church? A Mosque? A Museum?

This announcement has made international news that has provoked world-wide furor—including mine! While I would love to see it restored to a Christian church, to be realistic, I echo the voices of many who argue that the Hagia Sofia should be kept for everyone from all backgrounds and religions. It is timeless, not limited to religion; it belongs to humanity and to history. In light of its extraordinary history, it should be kept as a museum and world heritage site.   Why is this decision such a big deal?  What is so special about this building? Read on for some of the answers!

Hagia Sophia inteior – note scale of building in relationship to the people

A Christian Cathedral for 1,000 years

A Christian cathedral, built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century (532), the Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”) stands as the greatest example of Byzantine Christian architecture in the world, and for 1,000 years, it was the largest Christian church. 

“A Golden Chain from Heaven”

The interior of this magnificent church is its crowning glory—a soaring, canopy-like dome that dominates both inside and outside of the church and “rides on a halo of light” from windows in the dome’s base. It has been said that the dome looks as if it were suspended by “a golden chain from Heaven.”

Islamic Mosque

In 1453, with the invasion of Ottomans Turks, the Hagia Sophia was converted from a Christian church to an Islamic mosque; 4 minarets (Muslim prayer towers) were added.

Museum

As a museum, Christian frescos which had been covered over with Islamic symbols are slowly and painstakingly being restored.  However, while Istanbul serves as the seat for the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church (much like Vatican City is the seat for Pope of the Roman Catholic Church), the church is in a country under Islamic rule and with a 98% Muslim majority population (.2% Christian). 

Since 1934, it has been a museum and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1985) cherished by Christians and Muslims alike. For over 80 years, it has served as a monument of relative harmony and a symbol of the secularism that was a part of the foundations of the modern Turkish state.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, across from the Hagia Sophia

Mosque, once again

This week, Turkey’s President Erdogen issued a decree ordering the Hagia Sophia to be opened for Muslim prayers, and action which has received international furor.  I HOPE SO!

Interestingly, the famous Blue Mosque is just a 5 minute walk across a park from the Hagia Sophia, so certainly it is not that another mosque is needed in the area!

Visiting the Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia was on my Bucket List of places to experience; in 2003, my husband and I fulfilled that wish. It was as magnificent as everyone said but strangely provocative because of the huge Christian and Islamic art and symbols side by side, dwarfing all individuals present in the massive area.

What surprised me was how keenly I felt the opposing spiritual powers at work within the building.  Those opposing spiritual powers are even more at work today in this church of “Holy Wisdom.”    

Aerial view of the Hagia Sophia seen from the Blue Mosque. The Bosporus is behind it and Europe is across the river! The Hagia Sophia is in Asia!

TRAVEL TIP: Istanbul is a fascinating city to visit with not only the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, but also the Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace Museum all within the Old City. Istanbul is on the Bosphorus Strait and straddles Asia and Europe on the Bosporus Strait so that on one side of the river one is in Asia and the other side one is in Europe!  It is almost as fun as crossing the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin! (I said almost!)

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